Chart: Comparing CalPERS to the Endowment Index

Endowment Index chart

The Endowment Index represents the asset allocation and returns of the world’s largest institutional investors.

The this chart [above], you can compare the asset allocation and 10-year returns of CalPERS to other massive institutional investors. This chart represents CalPERS’ allocation before its hedge fund exit, which is an ongoing process.

More on the Endowment Index:

The Endowment IndexTM is an objective benchmark for investors who implement a three dimensional portfolio that incorporates alternative investments. This investable* index is used for portfolio comparison, investment analysis, research and benchmarking purposes by fiduciaries such as trustees, portfolio managers, consultants and advisors to endowments, foundations, trusts, DB/DC plans, pension plans and individual investors. The Endowment IndexTM has been co-created by Endowment Wealth Management, Inc. and ETF Model Solutions, LLC.

Chart courtesy of Endowment Wealth Management.

San Francisco Pension Backs Off Hedge Funds After Conflicts of Interest Surface

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) was set to vote yesterday on whether the fund should allocate up to 15 percent of assets, or $3 billion, to hedge funds.

But the vote never happened, in part because of the objections of union members and retirees who showed up to the meeting. Recent reports of conflicts of interest surrounding the hedge fund investments probably didn’t help, either.

From the International Business Times:

San Francisco officials on Wednesday tabled a proposal to move up to 15 percent of the city’s $20 billion pension portfolio into hedge funds. The move came a day after International Business Times reported that the consultants advising the city on whether to invest in hedge funds currently operate a hedge fund based in the Cayman Islands.

The hedge fund proposal, spearheaded by the chief investment officer of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System, or SFERS, had been scheduled for action this week. If ultimately enacted, it could move up to $3 billion of retiree money from traditional stocks and bonds into hedge funds, potentially costing taxpayers $100 million a year in additional fees.

Pension beneficiaries who oppose the proposal spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the SFERS board. They cited financial risks and the appearance of possible conflicts of interest in objecting to the hedge fund investments.

Prior to the meeting, the Service Employees International Union, which represents roughly 12,000 members who are eligible for SFERS benefits, asked city officials to have the hedge fund proposal evaluated by a consultant who has worked with boards that have opted against hedge funds.

David Sirota reported on the possible conflicts of interest earlier this week:

[SFERS is] drawing on the counsel of a company called Angeles Investment Advisors, one of a crop of consulting firms that has emerged across the country in recent years to aid municipalities in navigating the murky waters of managing money.

For two decades, Angeles has been employed by the San Francisco pension system to champion the best interests of city taxpayers and employees — the cops, firefighters and other municipal workers who depend on pension payments after their retirement. But the firm is concurrently playing another role that complicates its image as a disinterested guide: An International Business Times review of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents has found that since 2010, Angeles has run a hedge fund based in the Cayman Islands that invests in other hedge funds.

In other words, the consultants that are supposed to be providing unbiased advice about whether San Francisco would be wise to entrust its money to the hedge fund industry are themselves hedge fund players.

SFERS says that, although the vote is tabled for now, it could be brought back at a later time.

This isn’t the first time the pension fund has delayed voting on hedge fund investments. In fact, it’s the third time: the board first delayed the vote in June. Then it delayed the vote again in August.

Lessons In Infrastructure Investing From Canada’s Pensions


Canada’s pension plans were among the first in the world to invest in infrastructure, and they remain the most prominent investors in the asset class.

Are there any lessons to be learned from Canada when it comes to infrastructure investing? Georg Inderst, Principal of Inderst Advisory, thinks so.

In a recent paper in the Rotman International Journal of Pension Management, Inderst dives deep into Canada’s infrastructure investing and emerges with some lessons to be considered by pension funds around the world.

The paper, titled Pension Fund Investment in Infrastructure: Lessons from Australia and Canada, starts with a short history of Canadian infrastructure investing:

Some Canadian pension plans, notably the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), were early investors in infrastructure in the late 1990s and early 2000s, second only to Australian superannuation funds. Other funds followed, and the average allocation has been growing steadily since, reaching C$57B by the end of 2012 (5% of total assets). Here, too, there is a heavy “size effect” across pension funds: bigger pension plans have made substantial inroads into infrastructure assets in recent years (see Table 2), while small and medium-sized pension funds have little or no private infrastructure allocation.

The main driver for infrastructure investing appears to be the wish to diversify pension funds’ assets beyond the traditional asset classes. While Canadian pension funds have been de- risking at the expense of listed equities, regulators have not forced them into bonds, as was the case in some European countries. Real estate and infrastructure assets are also used in liability-driven investing (LDI) to cover long-term liabilities.

Canada frequently makes direct investments in infrastructure, an approach that is now being tested by pension funds around the world. From the paper:

According to Preqin (2011), 51% of Canadian infrastructure investors make direct investments, the highest figure in the world. This approach (known as the “Canadian Model”) has attracted considerable attention around the world, for several reasons:

• lower cost than external infrastructure funds

• agency issues with fund managers

• direct control over assets (including entry and exit decisions)

• long-term investment horizon to optimize value and liability matching

This direct approach to infrastructure investment must be seen in the context of a more general approach to pension plan governance and investment. Notable characteristics of the “Maple Revolutionaries” include

• Governance: Strong governance models, based on independent and professional boards.

• Internal management: Sophisticated internal investment teams built up over years; the top 10 Canadian pension plans outsource only about 20% of their assets (BCG 2013).

• Scale: Sizable funds, particularly important for large-scale infrastructure projects.

Potential challenges for the direct investing approach include insufficient internal resources, reputational and legal issues when things go wrong, and the need to offer staff market-based compensation in high-compensation labor pools.

Despite these challenges, however, the direct internal investment approach of large Canadian pension funds is now being tried in other countries. Other lessons from the Canadian experience include the existence of a well-functioning PPP model, a robust project bond market, and long-term involvement of the insurance sector.

Finally, the paper points to some lessons that can be learned from Canada:

Lessons learned include the following:

• Substantial infrastructure investments are possible in very different pension systems, with different histories and even different motivations.

• Infrastructure investment vehicles can evolve and adjust according to investors’ needs. In Australia, listed infrastructure funds were most popular initially, but that is longer the case.

• Pension plan size matters when investing in less liquid assets. Private infrastructure investing is driven primarily by large- scale funds, while smaller funds mostly invest little to nothing in infrastructure. In Australia, two-thirds of pension funds do not invest in unlisted infrastructure at all.

• Asset owners need adequate resources when investing in new and difficult asset classes. Some Canadian plans admit that their own estimates of time and other inputs were too optimistic at the outset.

• New investor platforms, clubs, syndicates, or alliances are being developed that should also attract smaller pension funds, such as the Pension Infrastructure Platform (PIP) in the United Kingdom or OMERS’ Global Strategic Investment Alliance (GSIA). However, industry experts stress the difficulties of such alliances with larger numbers of players, often with little experience and few resources. Decision time is also a critical factor.

The full paper offers much more insight into Canada’s approach as well as Australia’s. The entire paper can be read here.

San Francisco Pension Fund Votes Today On Whether To Invest in Hedge Funds

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) will vote later today on whether to invest in hedge funds for the first time.

If the board votes “yes”, the fund will have the ability to allocate up to 15 percent of its assets toward hedge funds. Reported by Bloomberg:

The hedge fund proposal stems from a June meeting when staff recommended changes to the fund’s asset allocation and the board voted to take 90 days to study options. At a meeting last month, staff suggested shifting the allocation to invest 35 percent in global equity, 18 percent in private equity, 17 percent in real assets, 15 percent in fixed income and 15 percent in hedge funds, according to the [fund CIO] Coaker memo.

The retirement system administers a pension plan and a deferred-compensation plan for active and retired employees. Retirement members include those who had worked for the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Unified School District, the San Francisco Community College District and the San Francisco Trial Courts.

Herb Meiberger, a commissioner and retirement board member, last month called for keeping hedge funds out of the mix. Hedge funds are complex, difficult to understand and carry high management fees, he said in a September memo.

“SFERS is a public fund subject to public scrutiny,” Meiberger wrote in the memo. It’s “one of the best-funded plans in the United States. Why change course?”


The San Francisco fund had $17 billion in assets based on market value and an unfunded liability of 15.9 percent as of July 1, 2013, a decline from 21.1 percent a year earlier, according to its most recent actuarial valuation report.

The chief investment officer of SFERS, William Coaker, recommended approving hedge funds in a memo this month.

“They have provided good protection in market downturns,” he wrote.

Chart: How Kentucky’s Alternatives Allocation Compares To Other Funds

KY alternatives percentage

The Kentucky Retirement Systems, more than almost any pension fund in the country, allocates a significant chunk of its assets toward alternatives.

But how does KRS compare to other pensions funds in that area? Check out the chart above.

The data is from the Public Fund Survey, which polls 98 pension funds every year on a variety of topics, including asset allocation.

Only 4 funds in that 98 fund sample allocated a higher percentage of its assets toward alternatives than Kentucky.

Chart is courtesy of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Research Shows Pension Funds Are Biggest Owner of Alternatives Among Institutional Investors

Graphs and numbers

New research from Towers Watson reveals that pension funds are the largest buyer of alternative investments among institutional investors (a designation that includes insurance companies, banks, endowments, etc.).

The research also details the rapid rise of alternatives as a major part of pension fund portfolios—globally, alternatives make up 18 percent of pension portfolios. That number has more than tripled since 1999, when pensions allocated 5 percent of assets toward alternatives.


The research — which includes data on a diverse range of institutional investor types — shows that pension fund assets represent a third (33%) of the top 100 alternative managers’ assets, followed by wealth managers (18%), insurance companies (9%), sovereign wealth funds (6%), banks (3%), funds of funds (3%), and endowments and foundations (3%).

“Pension funds continue to search for new investment opportunities, and alternative assets have been an area where they have made, and continue to make, very significant allocations. While remaining an important investor for traditional alternative managers, pension funds are also at the forefront of investing in new alternatives, for example, in real assets and illiquid credit. But they are by no means the only type of institutional investor looking for capacity with the top alternative managers. Demand from insurers, endowments and foundations, and sovereign wealth funds is on the rise and only going to increase in the future as competition for returns remains fierce,” said [Towers Watson head of manager research Brad] Morrow.


“Pension funds globally continue to put their faith in diversity via increasing alternative assets to help deliver more reliable risk-adjusted returns at the total fund level. This is evidenced by the growth, significant in some instances, in all but one of the asset classes in the past five years. Most of the traditional alternative asset classes are no longer really viewed as alternatives, but just different ways of accessing long-term investment themes and risk premiums. As such, allocations to alternatives will almost certainly continue to increase in the long term but are more likely to be implemented directly via specialist managers rather than funds of funds, although funds of funds will also continue to attract assets, as borne out by this research,” said Morrow.

The research was part of the Global Alternatives Survey, an annual report produced by Towers Watson.

Pennsylvania Pension Chairman Defends Hedge Funds; Says “Strategy Is Working”


Pennsylvania’s top auditor has publicly wondered whether Pennsylvania’s State Employees Retirement System (SERS) should be investing in hedge funds.

SERS has released formal statements defending their investment strategy, which currently allocates 6.2 percent of assets toward hedge funds.

But today, we got the pension fund’s most in-depth defense yet of the asset class.

Glenn E. Becker, chairman of the SERS Board, wrote a letter to the editor of the Patriot News which was published today in the paper. The letter, in full, reads:

I feel it is important to correct the record and explain how our hedge fund exposure has been working for the state’s taxpayers.

Industry experts generally agree that while hedge funds are not for every pension system, the unique needs of each system must shape their individual asset allocation and strategic investment plans. Therefore, the actions taken by one system may not be appropriate for all systems. Investors need to consider many factors including their assets, liabilities, funding history, cash flow needs, and risk profile.

Our current plan was designed to structure a well-diversified portfolio to meet the needs of a system that is currently underfunded, steadily maturing (has more retirees than active members) and, in the near term, will receive employer contributions below the actuarially required rate.

Those unique characteristics mean we need liquidity, low cash flow volatility, and capital protection. We must plan to pay approximately $250 million in benefits every month for the next 80-plus years. We continuously monitor fund performance, the markets and cash flows for any needed plan adjustments. At this time, our plan uses hedge funds as an integral component of a well-diversified portfolio that is expected to provide risk-adjusted returns over all types of markets.

To date, the strategy has been working. As of June 30, 2014, our diversifying assets portfolio, or hedge funds, made up approximately 6.2 percent of the total $28 billion fund, or approximately $1.7 billion. In 2013, that portfolio earned 11.2 percent or $197 million, after deducting fees of $14.8 million, while dampening the volatility of the fund. That performance helped the total fund earn 13.6 percent net of fees in 2013, adding more than $1.6 billion to the fund.

Certainly, caution is warranted when examining one short period given SERS’ long-term liabilities. Over the long term, as of December 31, 2013, the total fund returned an annualized, net of fees return of 7.4 percent over 10 years, 8.4 percent over 20 years and 9.7 percent over 30 years.

Over the past 10 years, more than 75 percent of the funds’ assets have come from investments. In terms of making up for the past underfunding, that is money that doesn’t have to come from the taxpayers.

Chart: Asset Allocation Over Time and the Rise of Alternatives

CREDIT: Pew Charitable Trusts report

Check out the fascinating graphic [above] detailing the different between alternatives allocations between 2006 and 2012. In six short years, alternative investments as a percentage of pension assets have doubled.

Now, compare that to the allocation of a public pension fund in 1980 [below].

Today, no pension system in its right mind would adhere to the allocations we saw in 1980, and for good reason. Still, it’s an interesting exercise to look back at how things have changed.

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 8.20.30 PM

Strong Global Equities Performance Drives Ontario Pension Return

Canada blank map

The Ontario Public Service Pension Plan (PSPP) returned 12.5 percent overall in 2013. But a new report from the Ontario Pension Board, which handles investments for the fund, gives more details on the performance of individual asset classes.

Strong global equities performance (37 percent return) drove the fund’s returns in 2013. Reported by Pensions & Investments:

In the pension fund’s annual report released Thursday by the Ontario Pension Board, which administers the defined benefit plan, global equities returned 37% last year, while Canadian equities returned 18%, compared with 35.9% for the MSCI World (Canadian dollar) and 13% for the S&P/TSX Composite indexes.

Real estate returned 12.9% vs. its custom benchmark’s 9.7% return; infrastructure, 12% vs. 0.9% for its custom benchmark; emerging markets equities, 5% vs. the MSCI Emerging Markets (Canadian dollar) index’s 4.3%; and Canadian fixed income, 1.8% vs. -1.2% for the DEX Universe Bond index.

Private equity, which returned 17.8%, was the only asset class to underperform its benchmark, which was 30.2%.

The pension fund’s asset allocation as of Dec. 31 was 28.2% fixed income, 23.7% developed markets equities, 15.5% emerging markets equities, 14% real estate, 8% cash and short-term investments, 7.6% Canadian equities, 2.5% infrastructure and 0.5% private equity.

The plan improved its funded status from 94 percent to 96 percent, according to the report.

The fund handles $18.9 billion of assets.

The Value of an Investment Policy Statement

stack of papers

Pension funds, both public and private, each have an Investment Policy Statement (IPS). An IPS provides a formal framework for investing the pension fund’s assets, including asset allocation targets and investment objectives.

But what are the values of having such a statement? A recent paper by Anthony L. Scialabba and Carol Lawton, published in the Journal of Pension Benefits, dives deep into that question.

Regarding the value of the statement, it can be used to show that trustees are indeed acting as “prudent investors”. From the paper:

With regard to the duty of prudence, conduct is what counts, not the results of the performance of the investments. An IPS can show that a prudent investment procedure was in place. In addition, an IPS can protect plan fiduciaries from inadvertently making arbitrary and ill-advised decisions. The directions outlined in the IPS can provide the fiduciaries with confidence in bad economic times that they made sound investment decisions in accordance with the plan sponsor’s or administrator’s intentions.

An IPS can also be a good communication tool, both for plan participants and for trustees:

An IPS can enhance employee morale in providing clear communication of the plan’s investment policy to participants. A plan sponsor can post a plan’s IPS on the Internet to provide participants with helpful insight into how the plan’s investments are chosen and maintained. This can reassure employees and encourage participation because they know that the investment fiduciaries have a sound investment structure in place. In addition, an IPS can enhance the morale of management if its members serve on the investment committee of a plan, as they are given guidance by which to judge their decisions and performance.

The authors also note that having a strong IPS – and sticking to it – can translate into strong investment performance.

There are some drawbacks to IPSs as well. To read about them, and read the rest of the paper (titled “Investment Policy Statements: Their Values and Their Drawbacks”), click here [subscription required].

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